New Afghanistan Strategy Must Not Sidestep Detention Reforms

(Washington DC December 1, 2009) Hours before President Barack Obama announces his plan for moving forward in Afghanistan, Human Rights First is calling on his Administration not to overlook critical changes needed to achieve U.S. counterinsurgency objectives and provide long-term stability in Afghanistan through the rule of law. Specifically, the organization called for U.S. detention policy reforms that would strengthen U.S.Afghan relations and ensure the nation is capable of handling national security threats long after U.S. forces finish their current mission.

“Afghans perceive U.S. detention operations as secretive and lacking in due process and that hinders the Obama Administration’s ability to achieve key counterinsurgency goals,” said Human Rights First’s Gabor Rona. “As the President prepares to send tens of thousands of new troops to Afghanistan, he has an obligation to ensure that the United States does all that it can to enhance local perception of the U.S. mission there and ensure that U.S. actions are seen as being fair, humane, and beneficial to the security of the Afghan people. Reforms to U.S. detention policies in Afghanistan are a crucial cornerstone of that achieving that goal.”

In November 2009, Human Rights First released a set of policy recommendations designed to address current U.S. detention challenges in Afghanistan. These included:

  • The U.S. and Afghan governments should enter into a public security agreement that sets forth the grounds and procedures for U.S. detentions consistent with international law;
  • In order to avoid mistaken captures, the U.S. must improve intelligence that results in detention;
  • The U.S should reduce the risk of arbitrary detentions by providing detainees a more meaningful way to challenge their detention;
  • The U.S. must work to increase the capacity of the Afghan authorities to handle detentions on their own by involving Afghan judges in a joint U.S.Afghan review body;
  • The U.S. should establish more transparency for detention operations by facilitating access to detainees and to U.S. detention facilities by Afghan and international human rights organizations; and
  • The U.S. should strengthen the fairness of Afghan criminal prosecutions of those captured by the United States by providing resources and training to soldiers who participate in information and evidence collection.

“Today, the Obama Administration starts a new chapter in America’s mission in Afghanistan, one that must embrace establishing trust and common goals with the Afghan people. As the President commits to increasing military strength in Afghanistan, he must not sidestep the United States’ obligation to also demonstrate its commitment to its international legal obligations, including humane treatment and due process of law for detainees,” Rona concluded.

For more information about Human Rights First’s work in Afghanistan, please visit


Published on December 1, 2009


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